deities and the last dance
Many of us think that Kandy’s Esala Perahera comes
to an end with the Day Perahera, but only a few of us know about
a ritual dance that takes place after the water-cutting ceremony.
D. B. Kappagoda traces the origin of Valiyakun Natuma, which takes
the form of a Shanthikarma
From ancient times people invoked supernatural forces for protection
and prosperity. Rituals, ceremonies and festivals are some form
of benediction to invoke blessings of deities on the people.
the month of Esala, ceremonies were held in ancient Sri Lanka —
also in India — to appease deities and obtain relief with
people taking part in rituals and offering poojas.
major festivals — Aluth Sahal Mangallaya, Aluth Avurudda,
Esala Keliya and Karthikeiya — were associated with Hindu
deities Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini. These four deities
are even today part of the Kandy Esala Perahera with processions
being held in devalas devoted to them. Processions are also held
at devalas at Aluthnuwara, Ratnapura, Kataragama and other areas
as part of the Esala celebrations.
deities and beliefs became popular during the Nayakkars’ reign
in Kandy. Such beliefs were also prevalent in the country when the
Cholas held sway over the Raja Rata in the 12th century.
Kandy Esala Perahera began as a procession in honour of deities
Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini. But the main focus turned
to Sri Dalada or the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha during the
rule of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe of the Nayakkar dynasty when
Upasampada or the Higher Ordination of bhikkhus was introduced from
is said that Ven. Upali Maha Thera, who arrived in Sri Lanka with
other bhikkhus to conduct the Upasampada ceremony in Kandy, witnessed
the Esala Perahera which consisted of four devala peraheras. The
Thera then advised the king to include a Sri Dalada perahera which
came to be known as Mahanuwara Esala Perahera.
the peraheras of the four devalas in Kandy also evolved along Buddhist
traditions. Today, the peraheras are considered a sacred event,
especially the main perahera which carries the Sacred Tooth Relic
of the Buddha.
most important ritual takes place at the conclusion of 10 days of
perahera — after the water cutting ceremony which is followed
by the Day Perahera.
The ritual in the form of dancing takes place at Maha Devalaya or
Vishnu Devalaya, as it is popularly known. It is held to ward off
evil effects on all those who took part in the peraheras. They include
the Diyawadana Nilame, the four Basnayake Nilames and the retinue
of dancers, drummers, elephants and their keepers.
The ritual takes the form of a Shanthikarma — benediction
known as Hath da Valiyakun Natuma performed at the Maha Devalaya
premises. In the past, this ritual was performed at the Kataragama,
Natha, Pattini devalas in Kandy, Wallahagoda devalaya in Gampola
and Aluthnuwara devalaya close to Hingula. It is now performed only
at the Maha Devalaya in Kandy.
origin of Valiyakun Natuma can be attributed to Vishnu. Rama in
the Ramayanaya was Vishnu incarnate. Sources such as Malaya Raja
Upath Kathava, Ankeli Upatha, Palavel Dana and Salugath Kathava
say that Rama and Vishnu are the same.
had three children by Sita and they were referred to as Malaya Raja
Tun Kattuwa in the Kohamba Kankariya — another ritual popular
in and around Kandy. The day after the water-cutting ceremony, poojas
and other forms of offerings begin throughout the night for seven
days at Sri Dalada Maligawa.
The Valiyakun Natuma varies with the time of commencement and conclusion
changing. Like in most of the Shanthikarma, there are offerings
made after each performance.
who watch Valiyakun Natuma can take part in Pirith Huye Kavigayuma,
Siri Huge Vadima, Parahanda Gena Padurulena Keela Badima, Pandam
Paliya, Kaliyama, Gara Nateema, Alathi Ammavam, Vannakurala, Bera
Panguwa and Theva Panguwa.
offerings are also made to Esala Geya, Muva Mula, Gavara Maha Siviliya,
Sivili Valam, Valiyak Batha, Solos Mugala, Paduru Parahandu and
The story in Valiyakun relates how the three children of Rama grew
up. One day while they were returning home after their lessons they
saw Palaga with Pattini Devi plucking mangoes using two long sticks
that had hooks at the end of their sticks. Suddenly their sticks
Devi saw the three princes passing by and appealed to them to release
her entangled hook. The princes freed the stick and her appeal was
fulfilled. Pattini Devi was pleased with their act and called them
Valiyakun which meant clever in working in unison.
dancing style in Valiyakun Natuma is a distinct form of Kandyan
dancing. The performers are required to participate in the ritual
under the ancient Rajakariya system of the devalaya. The land belonging
to Vishnu Devalaya is given to those who perform.
who perform Gara Yakum Natuma, Keela Bendima and Kali Yama belong
to one family of dancers. Pooja Narthana and drumming belong to
another family who are conversant in the performance of Valiyakun
Those who participate in the performance of this ritual do not belong
to the dancing families who perform in the Mahanuwara Esala Perahera.
The two families of dancers of Valiyakun Natuma are from Mawanella
who serve the Aluthnuwara Devalaya.